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Thinking Without the Scientific Revolution: Global Interactions and the Construction of Knowledge

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Amongst the many narrative strategies in the recent “global turn” in the history of science, one commonly finds attempts to complement the single European story by multiplying histories of knowledge-making in as many different regional and cultural contexts as possible. Other strategies include attempts to generalize the “Needham Question” of why the Scientific Revolution occurred only in early-modern Europe to the exclusion of other parts of the world, or to challenge the diffusionist vision of the spread of modern science from Europe by attempting to show that non-European scientific traditions already had an understanding of recent European discoveries. These latter strategies seek simply to pluralize the Scientific Revolution without actually unpacking the latter concept itself.This article seeks firstly to show that the “Scientific Revolution” was in fact a Cold War invention intended to bring the freshly decolonized world into the ambit of the West by limiting the conception of modern science to Europe-specific activities thus delegitimizing other knowledge domains and using the term as a spatially circumscribed chronological marker. Using a broader understanding of scientific activity in the early modern period, and mobilizing relational methodologies, such as circulatory and connected historiographies, the paper then re-examines the well-known history of the Hortus Malabaricus, one of the most celebrated seventeenth-century botanical works, to show the short- and long-range knowledge circulations, intercultural interactions and connections involved in its making to bring out the global nature of scientific activity of the period and illustrate relational approaches to global history.

Affiliations: 1: École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales ParisFrance


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